It’s been another busy year for Newcastle’s netball queen Sam Poolman in 2019, as her Aspire development program embarked on another expansion year, with Tamworth and Wyong joining the academy family.
The Aspire journey this year has seen Sam clock up more than 2,500 kilometres on the road between associations like Newcastle, Charlestown, Singleton, and Port Stephens, and bring more than 500 young stars under her wing.
According to the 28-year-old Super Netball defender, who recently re-signed with the GWS Giants for a further two seasons, there’s nothing she loves more.
“It was a massive year, which is always a really positive sign,” Sam told the Women’s Chronicle as she took a well-earned rest from the netball grind.
“We had the expansion this year, with a couple of new associations involved. That was really nice, because it opens the door for me to meet new athletes, I met some Central Coast athletes through Wyong, and that was really cool.
“I love being a part of the journey for these young athletes, and the development of individual athletes. I think everyone was really happy that we were able to get to places like Wyong and Tamworth too, so that was really nice.”
As well as the expansion, which Poolman said “went perfectly,” the development program welcomed its 505th rising star through its doors. When the Giants defender first started her Hunter-based project, she had no clue it would get this big.
Part of the reason, she believes, is her initial choice to bring the training programs to the associations, travelling around armed with her gear and knowledge before setting up at the home courts of the girls that signed up.
“I’ve certainly done a lot of hours in the car, but it’s nothing that I’m not used to this far into my netball career now,” she laughed. “I honestly love that now, I get to meet so many different communities now and I really enjoy it.”
Because of that travel time, and the fact Sam runs most of her Aspire program during the Super Netball offseason right up until December, the Aspire founder admitted she’ll have to be “wiser” with her time if she wants to add more associations again.
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“I do have to get creative in how I fit so many associations in at this point, the thought of expanding again is definitely one that I love because I want as many people involved as possible, but I do have to be clever about it,” she explained.
“I haven’t done too much planning on if there will be more associations in 2020, but I won’t ever say no to getting more girls onboard. That’s what it’s all about. The program now is heading into its fourth year, so I think I’ve got them set now.
“I’m always looking for new ideas on how to grow it as well, of course, but I really want to stick to the formula of not only helping the players, but becoming involved with the associations and the family to grow everything about the region.”
According to Poolman, that deeper connection to the ecosystem of the netball community surrounding the player also helps the young stars grow, especially when their families are on board “100 percent” and can back players’ development.
“Parents are key to the early stages of a netball career, they can play this key role in guiding you and helping you make decisions, and motivating you to keep on the track that you’re walking on,” she said.
“I’ve had a lot of people ask if they can meet my mum,” she added,” because I talk about her role in my development a lot and so they are really interested in learning how she supported me. She was a big part of my own growth, that’s for sure.”
Along those paths, Poolman said her 2020 goals would be to take the “already established programs” for Aspire that she has built over the last few years and add new elements to the programs that support the athlete, parents, coaches, and associations.
“The ultimate goal is, of course, to increase the talent in the Hunter and make a stronger region for all of us for the sport, but we want to do that on a deeper level now moving into the new year,” she said. “That’s the plan at least.”
Now, the Giants defender is already preparing for her busy 2020, which begins with one final development camp at Hunter Sports High on Sunday, February 2.
The final camp, Poolman explained, is a “catch-up” for any players who were involved in the 2019 Aspire program, with Sam able to cast her eye over where they’ve progressed since she was at their association, and point them in the right direction.